Since the pandemic, baby boomers have left the US workforce in increasing numbers. According to Forbes, an average of 2 million boomers have retired annually since 2011. However, by 2020, that number had increased to 3.2 million, and the trend continues today. For some, it represents a departure from decades-long corporate jobs to early retirement to create entrepreneurial endeavors on their own terms.
Unlike young entrepreneurs, these seasoned veterans of the workforce bring with them a lifetime of knowledge and experience. Especially for women, leaving corporate America to enter entrepreneurship centers on flexibility, escaping corporate politics, and finding work with purpose. Forbes 50 over 50 represents the steps that women of all ages are taking for their entrepreneurial activities.
In many ways, the entrepreneurial drive is similar to the pursuit of entrepreneurial dreams of the younger generation, but with the addition of learned experiences in their arsenal. As younger entrepreneurs look for innovations that might set them apart, many Boomer women are simply bringing their personal and professional passions to new environments of compassion, inclusion, and empathy.
Catherine Kafer, a luxury real estate agent, represents one of the early adopters that attracts the company for entrepreneurial activities. He left his job at IBM to venture out on his own years ago when the decision was not widely perceived and positive.
Over the past two decades, Kafer overcame personal and professional obstacles to build a successful real estate business in Nevada and California. Now, he devotes part of his time to providing practical help and advice to those just starting out or looking to expand their efforts.
“Today’s young people are some of the brightest America has ever produced,” says Kafer. The availability of advanced technologies may be related to how intelligent they are and their ability to do their jobs. However, if they want to go long-term and build world-leading businesses and brands, they must maintain some time-tested principles.”
Kafir believes that one of the two main secrets of his longevity and success is his constant self-education, the evolution of his services and his insistence on building a good name in the industry.
This reporter sat down with Kathryn Kafer to gain insight into the mindset of a woman entrepreneur, ahead of her time, who decided to leave the confines of the corporate world for her own individual pursuits. Kafer shares his journey and what he thinks this generation should focus on to improve their careers.
Rod Berger: Your story has been one of perseverance, from academic success to building an enviable career in real estate. Take us back to your journey, background and previous activities.
Catherine Kafer: I was born and raised in the East Bay area and have lived there my entire life. I graduated from St. Mary’s College in 1986 and went straight to work for IBM. In the same year, I quickly got married and bought a house. This was an exceptional feat, especially considering that I was considered dyslexic as a child and people thought I would amount to nothing academically.
I had to stay in first grade because I couldn’t read. However, through sheer determination and the help of faith, I turned it around, became an A student, and ended up being the only undergraduate in my college to be hired at IBM the same year we graduated.
I am a mother of two grown daughters, a real estate broker and an investor. I also consider myself a Realtor because I love advising my clients on the best path to take, not just selling them on offers. I love creating win-win situations. I also run a non-profit called Ministries and Me.
I have a team of therapy animals who help people who are experiencing loss, depression or problems. Theo, my miniature Australian Shepherd, and Zabidi, my miniature horse, and both are AAI (Animal Assisted Intervention) animals. They bring many smiles to people’s faces, give them hope and help them overcome life’s challenges. I started Mini and Me after I tragically lost my husband in an accident in 2015 and trusted God to heal and pull through. Mini and Me is my way of sharing with others, one of the things that helped me.
Burger: How did you go from working at IBM to becoming a real estate agent? These two paths appear unique in experience and are not necessarily aligned.
Unbeliever: In 1993, while still working at IBM, layoffs suddenly began. The company was remodeling and closing some locations, including my office in Walnut Creek. The company gave me two options, commuting to the San Francisco office or receiving the purchase package. I was pregnant with my second child at the time and refused this opportunity to travel with two children. So, I chose the buy option.
Many people at the company told me I would never get a better job and thought I was stupid. I did a few odd jobs and eventually started helping my husband run his construction company. My husband and I bought fixer covers from 1995-2000 and flipped them. During that time, I fell in love with real estate and got my broker’s license in 1998 to help more people. I started working for a luxury dealer in 2000 and have been a top producer ever since.
It just clicked, and I knew this was what I was meant to do. For the past two decades, I have successfully parlayed this natural talent as a creative problem solver into a living as a full-service real estate broker in one of the Bay Area’s premier markets.
Burger: What has been the secret of your success in the last two decades? How can the young generation learn from those secrets?
Unbeliever: I pride myself on adapting to unforeseen scenarios rather than jumping ship. That’s how I stayed in the industry even after the housing market crashed in 2008. I am self-motivated and driven by challenges. I have an impeccable work ethic that keeps me always at the forefront of my industry. However, despite all these qualities, building a good name in the industry has been one of my strongest weapons.
Burger: Can you explain more about building a good name and how it has helped your career?
Unbeliever: When developing a business or working, our eyes are often so focused on profits and advertising that we tend to miss the many opportunities hidden in our customers’ needs. A good name is a reputation that demonstrates your excellence in what you do and your ability to help your customers achieve what they want, or as close to it as possible.
Excellence, empathy, honesty and intuition are the main elements of a good name. Real estate is more than just a job to me. I am equally enthusiastic and focused on my job and my clients. When you love what you do and the people you serve, word spreads fast.
When the recession hit in 2008, I knew I had to learn different ways to help my clients. So I invested in training with world-renowned trainers. The goal was to create additional investment strategies for my clients.
In 2011, I had to leave the brokerage I was working with because they insisted I could only sell and buy homes for my clients, and I refused.
Then I started my own brokerage firm, Redeemer Real Estate Solutions, and was reborn as a real estate agent. I help my clients with all the ways and strategies that will benefit them and their investments. My insistence on going above and beyond for my clients has been highlighted and recognized in the industry. I am proud of my awards which show my dedication and commitment to my profession.
Young people have all the skill sets and technology available, but the heart may need more training.
Burger: Today, we focus on Millennials and their ability to be professionally flexible with their respective career choices. In 1993, you made a big decision and bet on yourself and launched a successful new career. What advice do you have for the new generation of professional women to have it all?
Unbeliever: I believe you can have it all. However, having them all takes time. In my experience, if you get things before your time, you may not be prepared for liability or financial damage. I have a servant’s heart and I have found that life is reciprocating. If you help people get what they want, they will help you in return.
In the journey of life, doors open and close throughout your life. It helps to know which doors to go through and which to leave alone. For example, if an opportunity comes up and you’re really excited about it, and it feels right, and everything inside of you tells you yes, then go for it. On the other hand, if you feel bad or uncomfortable, let it go, and it will come back if it’s supposed to.
Burger: How has your definition of success changed over time with the added roles in your life?
Unbeliever: My definition of success has changed over time. When you’re fresh out of college and getting a job in the job you think you want, it’s the beginning of success. As your life goes on and you have more personal responsibilities, your terms of success will change as you try to balance your career, children, marriage, finances, and more.
For example, when I had my two daughters, it was very important to work close to home and make sure they got what they needed. So, I bought IBM and found another career. I am always looking to be the best version of myself and grow personally so that I can help others. Being able to help my family and others is what defines my success now.
Millennials and Gen-Z often make headlines that emphasize the growing entrepreneurial spirit in the United States, yet as studies show, professionals with more experience succeed in entrepreneurial pursuits.
For women who have struggled in the corporate life of raising children and balancing careers, these new ventures can provide a sense of empowerment, purpose, and community building. As Kathryn Kafer suggests, younger generations can benefit from the insights and experiences of those who have struggled on the road before them, while excellence, empathy, integrity, and intuition are key elements of their branding.
The entrepreneurial journey is a path learned through experiences and failures. Incorporating the advice of those who have come before can provide a shared key that helps unlock the doors to success for younger professionals.
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.